Check out IKEA Hackers if you’re in the mood for some fascinating ideas on how to “hack” your furniture pieces into something else! (Below is an image of a hack to create a cat house). Working on a paper to figure out how user-innovators generate hacks with novel functionalities - abstract of working paper below.
Exaptations frequently arise in the context of user–innovators who creatively modify (or “hack”) existing products to accommodate new needs. We examine how different search triggers for creative problem solving affect the occurrence of exaptations by comparing “product-first” searches with “problem-first” searches. In a product-first search, the user–innovator identifies the product to be hacked before seeking out a viable need; in a problem-first search, the user–innovator defines the problem before seeking out a viable solution. We argue that user-innovators are less likely to achieve exaptations following a product-first (as compared to a problem-first) search. This is because individual user-innovators are more likely to face, amongst other cognitive factors, functional fixedness when engaged in product-first search. On the other hand, the collective heterogeneity of unique problems that user-innovators have aid the generation of exaptations when they engage in problem-first search. Using a novel data set comprising user hacks of IKEA products, we present evidence that hacks originating from a product-first search are less likely to generate exaptations than are hacks originating from a problem-first search. However, we also show that this difference is mitigated when the user–innovator has hacking experience, or when the IKEA product being hacked affords a higher level of user-product-environment interactions. We contribute to the growing literature on exaptation as a source of novelty and discuss the implications of this phenomenon for managing user innovation.